It proved to be another memorable weekend at Epsom for Aidan O'Brien and the Coolmore team with Love producing a stunning display in the Investec Oaks and maiden winner Serpentine causing an upset in the Investec Derby later the same afternoon on Saturday.
Love, who had claimed the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket on her reappearance last month, proved a class apart from her rivals blitzing the field by upwards of nine lengths. The daughter of Galileo had been nudged along rounding Tattenham Corner but Ryan Moore's mount soon came back on the bridle before powering clear to register a most emphatic victory. Market rival Frankly Darling, who had looked so impressive in the Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot, failed to handle the track according to Frankie Dettori but it is unlikely she would have matched the winner in any case. Unfortunately, Gold Wand simply wasn't ready or good enough to trouble the principals but she will have other days later in the year. It remains to be seen where Love heads next but it will be interesting to see if the Ballydoyle outfit are tempted by the Triple Crown and steer her towards the St Leger in September. The Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp the following month will almost certainly be on the agenda, especially given the excellent recent record of three year olds in the race.
As regards the Epsom Derby, it was a race I was very much looking forward to beforehand but felt deflated and exasperated afterwards. Serpentine is obviously improving at a rapid rate of knots having only lost his maiden tag a week earlier at the Curragh. However, I have no doubt that English King will turn out to be the best horse in the race. Similar to Cracksman three years ago, I think his lack of experience counted against him and, provided he isn't asked to do too much too soon this summer, one would expect him to develop into a top class colt, especially next year. I would be tempted to leave him off until the Great Voltigeur at York next month, similar to Cracksman, and then decide whether to train him for the St Leger, although he possesses enough speed for a mile and a half.
I also feel there were a couple of other reasons why he only finished fifth on Saturday. His draw in stall one was a major inconvenience because it meant Frankie Dettori was forced to race along the far rail throughout and saw no daylight. It was compounded by the fact he was slowly away again, similar to Lingfield. It is a problem which needs rectifying because he can't afford to forfeit ground in the top-class races. Secondly, English King's owner Bjorn Nielsen warned about team tactics in the lead up to the race and the Coolmore outfit 'did a job' on the Camelot colt. Following Ryan Moore on Mogul on the rail, Frankie Dettori had no option but to sit and suffer because everywhere he went, Vatican City went with him and sat on his outside. While this was going on the leader Serpendine was building up an unassailable lead. Therefore once in the clear, Ed Walker's charge was faced with an impossible task and did well to finish as close as he did. The whole race was unsatisfactory and English King's connections must have been immensely frustrated afterwards. Unfortunately, team tactics are becoming part and parcel of modern day racing, especially on the Flat. Aidan O'Brien has won the Epsom Derby on eight occasions which is a magnificent achievement but readers will have their own ideas as to whether they consider the likes of Anthony Van Dyck, Serpentine and Wings of Eagles 'Derby greats.'
Overall, it was a poor weekend for the Top 40 Prospects - when I wrote Ahead On The Flat during the winter/spring, I was hoping front cover horse Tempo Vuela would be lining up in the Oaks, but not as pacemaker. Last Friday proved a better day with both Galanta Bridge and Patrick Sarsfield scoring at Wolverhampton and Naas respectively. The former won a shade cosily and looks the sort who will continue to progress, while the latter has plundered two good prizes in handicap company and is ready for a rise in grade.
I covered the meeting at Haydock on Sunday for Racing TV and I think time will show the opening two year old contest wasn't a bad race. Despite only finishing fourth, I suggest keeping an eye out for the William Haggas trained Mayaas. A colt by Dark Angel who cost 425,000gns, he is out of the Lowther Stakes winner Best Terms. Showing signs of greenness when coming under pressure, he stayed on well and was only beaten around two lengths. His lack of experience caught him out at the Merseyside track and he will be a different proposition next time.
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